EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Phoenix Suns notebook: Maintaining; injury updates; Booker the decoy
Oct 14, 2022, 5:47 PM
PHOENIX — Modern-day training camps and preseasons in the NBA put teams in a weird spot that they have adapted to over time. Camp will be about a week before the preseason starts across four games and then it’s roughly a week of nothing until the season opener.
Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams has referenced in the past how there’s a challenge wrapped inside those three-ish weeks to keep up game shape.
As guard Damion Lee pointed out after Friday’s practice, this is not the ’80s and ’90s anymore, when the preseason game total was double what it is today and training camp was used by a lot of guys to get in game shape. Instead, players are mostly showing up with their fitness levels high, and so it’s about maintaining and expanding from there.
Williams said Friday’s practice included over two hours of on-court time, and that’s much more in the vein of a training camp practice as opposed to one you’d see in the regular season.
The Suns have been scrimmaging a ton throughout camp and did more of it on Friday.
“I think we can use this next week to get into even better shape,” point guard Chris Paul said Friday. “Like coach say, build habits and be as ready as possible for the first game.”
For players entering the program for the first time like Lee, who comes from the Golden State Warriors, it’s an extra week to dot the i’s and cross the t’s with all the tiny details that go into understanding any NBA system on both ends. That’s plays, terminology, concepts, philosophies and so on.
Lee has been diligent with his film work and is already on a first-name basis with the video coordinators and such. He said he’s in a good spot with one of the most difficult parts, the verbiage changes, like how the Suns typically call switching out as “red” as opposed to whatever other teams use. Lee asks lots of questions to get all that stuff down.
But even then, things will always come up, so this extra week is super valuable to someone like him and a few reserves that just arrived.
“It’s a great advantage for newer guys, especially with the way the NBA is now with less preseason games,” Lee said.
Guard Landry Shamet (left hip strain) and forward Cam Johnson (right thumb sprain) both were unable to scrimmage on Friday but did everything else, per Williams.
“We’ll see over the weekend if they can progress,” the head coach said.
Both players missed the Suns’ last two preseason games. Shamet was getting shots up after practice while Johnson has been showing signs of progress. He no longer has a brace around his right thumb and was shooting with his right hand for the first time on Friday.
There’s also guard Cam Payne dealing with a right finger sprain.
Meanwhile, center Dario Saric is back with the team after missing a few days due to a personal matter.
BOOKER THE DECOY
Williams was asked by PHNX Sports’ Gerald Bourguet about how eighth-year guard Devin Booker can improve this year given how well-rounded of a player he has become.
This led to Williams rolling through how the elite of the league reach new heights because of how much they open up for their teammates. For example, Booker racks up hockey assists at will. He usually does not make the final pass that results in a bucket but he makes the correct first one to capitalize off the way a defense has over-committed to him.
A part of that is Booker’s screening, something you may have picked up on over the years. Booker will often improvise one on the fly, using the amount of defensive attention he gets to his advantage.
“Guys that have somebody draped on them all the time, it’s almost like a double screen,” Williams said.
Williams spoke on the importance of going through their motions “in a violent, 0.5 kick-up action” to play with pace and put even more pressure on defenses in those situations.
“It’s hard to make that decision when guys are flying off a screen or running into a screen,” Williams said. “A lot of times I think the guy guarding him, when he’s flying into a screen and then he slips out or he sets a screen, you don’t know what to do.”
Williams made sure to say that this is something Booker was doing before Williams got to Phoenix.
This play below from the preseason is a pretty typical half-court possession with Paul bringing the ball up while Deandre Ayton’s screen lets Mikal Bridges wiggle around to his second home at the elbows.
Booker meanders his way into the paint from the corner where he’s presumably going to wrap around a screen from Ayton or flash back out to the perimeter.
All of a sudden, wham, Denver’s Bruce Brown is almost screening his teammate DeAndre Jordan himself and Ayton gets an in-rhythm jumper on the move.
Brown was keen to it and switched right away, as Booker has long been known for doing this by now, but it’s one of those sequences you jot down in your head as another way Phoenix can get more opportunities for the likes of Bridges, Ayton and Johnson.
“It drives him nuts but I’ll draw up a play and I’ll be like, ‘Book I want you to be a decoy here’ and he’s like, ‘It’s an expensive decoy, coach!'” Williams said with a laugh. “He’ll say something typical Book but because he can do that it opens up the floor for other guys.”